The principle interest of this blog is mastery and, most particularly, how we as human beings interfere with our ability to attain it.
And one of the things that I’ve been noticing lately is the level of snarky sniping that goes on in conversations about other people. It’s one thing to offer up constructive or compassionate criticism of someone, it’s quite another thing for that criticism to be contemptuous in an attempt at self-elevation.
I’ve done a lot of spiritual reading in my own quest of mastery. One of the most interesting sources is A Course In Miracles. This book has been around since the 70’s and it talks about this sniping being a function of the human ego; it calls them attack thoughts.
As I’ve discussed before, the spirit in each of us, our pure essence, is who we really are. Our egos are a façade that we lay on top of that as a result of our human experience. As we move further away from our birth, that time when we were our most pure, we become more self aware. And we come to think of ourselves as these ego constructs that we’ve instinctively erected, also known as the “human condition.”
The problem with that is that since these ego constructs are all circumstantial, there’s really no substance to them other than as reactionary lessons of life. Not that some of those life lessons aren’t valuable, but they are fearful reactions rather than spiritual emanations of certitude.
The reason for this is that the ego knows that it is ephemeral. It knows that it’s only hope of survival is to make itself more powerful than the ethereal spirit on which it has mounted itself. The ephemeral quality of the ego terrifies it. It knows that when the human body dies, it will too. And it is this terror that is responsible for these ego attack thoughts; “I must attack first to protect myself.”
I know more than one person who is this way. We all do. They are negative people. They speak of other people in a denigrating, gossipy way. These conversations are their egos trying to make themselves bigger than those they attack. And the more fragile the ego, the more contemptuous the attack. They do not understand that they are their spirits and their impervious spirits do not require this sort of defense, only their egos do.
How this is relative to golf mastery is in how these judgments of others take us out of the moment. If one’s mind has this running steam of these concoctions, it is not truly in the moment; it’s in the fabrication of these judgments.
Moreover, the sorrow of the ego is that it knows that if it has these judgments of others, surely others will have those judgments of it. Hence the preemptive strikes and the constant fear of attack.
The most prevalent place in golf to see this fear of attack manifested is in the fear of embarrassment. How many times have you heard a truly great professional player—aren’t they all truly great?—talk about how they don’t want to embarrass themselves with poor play.
You used to hear it in the Skins Game all the time. The Skins Game was the made-for-tv event where four superstars were gathered in Palm Springs on Thanksgiving weekend to play the golf gambling game, “Skins.” Each hole has a dollar value—$15, 20, 25 thousand dollars, say—and the player with the lowest score on a hole wins that skin. If there’s no outright winner, that skin is added to the value of the next hole. So during the broadcast, there’s the one thread of each player trying to win the most money and leave victorious. And then there’s the other thread of each player squirming to “get off the schnide,” to win a skin to avoid the embarrassment of going home with nothing.
You also see this fear of attack in team events, best ball events like the Shark Shootout. Made-for-television, two-man teams vie to shoot the lowest score as a team. A player who is not playing well seems never to be satisfied with the fact that his partner might be. He only seeks to avoid embarrassment that he’s not. If he salvages some sense of contribution to the cause, he speaks later about how the team, “ham-and-egged it,” each contributing to an ego-validating round. More specifically, he didn’t play as badly as his ego thinks it looked like. After all, look what the “team” accomplished.
You particularly used to see it in Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup competitions. Because you are playing for your country in these events, you have that pressure on top of the ego needs. Because “mental” coaching has become more sophisticated and accepted in recent years, you don’t hear it so much anymore, but the familiar refrain always used to be, “I just don’t want to embarrass myself [by letting my partner down, my country down].”
Translation? “My ego is so weak and pitiful that if I don’t live up to the expectations I think other people have of me, I will surely die.” The problem is that it’s not true. It’s just another lie of the ego.
As a golfer, as a human being moving through life, the key is to notice that these conversations are going on, either in your head or watching it play out in other’s. And then to notice how much space they take up in your awareness. And then to notice how much more awareness you have available for your golf game, for your life, when you don’t engage in them as either a generator of them or in expectation of them.
And that they are, indeed, all lies of the ego.
You are your spiritual essence and it requires no defense.